Sunday, August 23, 2015

Prague, discovery and nostalgia

One week in Prague, for the first time in Czech Republic and to the Goldschmidt conference (about geochemistry). Why not before? Well, Prague is yearly visited by too many Italians and I prefer less crowded places. The Goldschmidt conference is held every year in a different location, but it was in Prague already four years ago. However, I’m not a geochemist, neither a petrologist, but what I’m currently doing brings me closer and closer to this field of geology. Thus, I joined a large Belgian group, heading to Prague on a tiny turboprop aircraft.

a normally beautiful city, in any corner
Impressions from Prague. I annoyed all my journey mates and colleagues with this thought: the city reminds me Vienna. Not only for the chains of supermarkets and shops, the local recipes, the smell of railway in the subway, etc., but also for the beauty of the buildings in any street. The ugly Plattenbauten can be found only in the periphery. The center is preserved as it was at the beginning of the XX century, with rococo palaces next to art nouveau houses, as it wasn’t heavily damaged by WWII bombing. Obviously Prague is not Vienna, there are many differences, but it is closer to Vienna or Dresden than to Brussels. Once understood the differences, I liked the city for its characteristics. The locals are not that talkative and appear somehow rude, maybe annoyed by too many tourists. The locals I met outside this experience, scientists and musicians, are extremely nice persons. Like in Vienna, rude in shops and restaurants, lovely if met personally. Sorry, again the comparison! I hope to be forgiven for this continuous comparison with a city that played an important role in my life. For this reason, I would like to come back to Prague, for discovering more of the Czech features and history, but never again in August, when too many tourists, especially young Italians, are in town.

The inner joy given by a baroque church
Impressions from the conference. Even though I did not receive any feedback on the topic I was presenting, I learned a lot. I attended also talks not related to what I’m doing, but that allowed me to understand my belgian colleagues’ work. Not only science was good at this Goldschmidt, but also the complimentary food and drinks. After the terrible experience in Morocco last year, I was glad to find again beer and wine during the poster session. Don’t worry, I’m kidding. I met more colleagues from my Italian life than from the Viennese one. Another jump into the past. Seriously, the most touching experience was discovering the human side of other scientists. We talked about chemical reactions, isotopic fractionation, magma evolution, but also about family, feelings, dreams about the future, difficult relations with bosses or students, etc. It has been reassuring. It has also helped to tighten the bonds with some colleagues that I can consider friends. None is the superman/superwoman that appears in conferences or papers. We all have a life outside science. But none would stay in academia without a strong motivation.

Finally, a big thank to the guy who made this journey possible. The night before departure I had strong ear pains and I was afraid that an otitis could have jeopardized the flight. Quite anxious, I went to airport, where I consulted the local medical service. A young doctor has checked my ear and found that the infection wasn't so deep to make me risk the break of the eardrum. He prescribed some antibiotic drops and I could fly to Prague, with a much more peaceful mind. He saw that I was worried and tried to make me comfortable asking information about the conference I was going to attend. A rare case of empathetic doctor. I only regret to have lost his name.

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